LOS ANGELES, SEPT. 1 -- Howard University is so determined to make an impression Sunday at the second annual Los Angeles Football Classic that, while its football team was undergoing two-a-day practices in the brutal summer heat, its band was doing the same.
For Howard, which last year finally managed to arrange a long-sought-after meeting with Grambling at the New Jersey Meadowlands, Sunday's game at the Los Angeles Coliseum against Southern University is another step toward making the school -- and its football team -- better known on a national level.
Until last year, when the Bison upset Grambling, 6-0, on their way to a surprising 8-3 season under first-year coach Steve Wilson, Howard rarely played out of the corridor from Delaware to Florida.
Playing in the predominantly black Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Howard found its lack of reputation to be a problem in recruiting. In recent years, when the football team should have been gaining recognition in national polls, Howard was virtually ignored.
Wilson ideally would have liked to open this season with a weaker opponent than Southern of Baton Rouge, La., which was 6-4-1 last year, but he knows it is important if the program is to continue an upgrading process.
"This is something we have to do for our program," he said. "Many schools look at the end of the season for bowl bids and tournaments. We at Howard look at this as a bowl bid. It is our kickoff classic."
Although both participants are located time zones away from Los Angeles, the game is generating interest. Advance ticket sales were said to be 25 percent ahead of last year's inaugural classic in which Grambling and Alcorn State drew 40,000.
The impression Howard leaves will be important for future scheduling. That is why it hopes to be successful this weekend at everything from the football team to the band's halftime performance to the attraction at the turnstiles.
"We would like to start scheduling some predominantly white schools," said Howard Athletic Director William Moultrie. "But you can't make someone put you on their schedule and play you."
Southern Coach Gerald Kimble said that an increasing presence on the national level is helping black schools.
"I have found that in the past two or three years, we have not had the problem of getting top athletes who otherwise would have gone to so-called predominantly white schools," he said.
One of those athletes is mobile junior quarterback Nathaniel Harrison, who threw for 13 touchdowns and rushed for five others last year. Another Southern standout is defensive back Aeneas Williams, a former walk-on who will play this season as a graduate student. Williams has inspired scouts from more than 10 NFL teams to find their way to Baton Rouge in the past year.
The Bison will be most concerned with stopping Harrison. Howard's defense finished No. 1 in Division I-AA last year, but only three starters return. Harrison will be a problem because Howard has played few pass-oriented teams under Wilson's defensive system.
"We have had to add things to our defensive package, but their quarterback is a lot like our quarterback, Donald Carr, who we practice against," said Howard senior outside linebacker Kenneth Newsome. "We know our defensive line will have to put a lot of pressure on him and we can't give him time to sit back and pass. Our inside linebackers will have to bring pressure."
Carr said playing Southern will give Howard an immediate assessment of its strengths and weaknesses.
"This game will tell us at what level we are capable of playing this season," said Carr. "We are anxious to see how everyone stands up under fire."